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Public Rights of way and your land

An estimated 29m people regularly walk in the UK and many more have been accessing the countryside over the last year due to the pandemic. This is likely to increase further this summer with the tight restrictions on foreign travel and more day visitors to the countryside looking to escape from towns and cities. 

Landowners with a public right of way through their land may have concerns about its use, especially if that land use is now for viticulture and some routes which might have had very little use in previous years could now be busier.  There are a number of different types of right of way, so what are the rights of those allowed to use it?

In England and Wales, a footpath is a public right of way for pedestrians and they are allowed to walk their dog as long as it is kept under close control. Prams, pushchairs or wheelchairs can also be used on a footpath.

There are other types of public rights of way:

Bridleways are for use by walkers, horse riders and cyclists, but cyclists are expected to give way to walkers and horse riders.

Byways are open to motorists, cyclists, horse riders and walkers and vehicles using them must be registered, taxed, insured and have a MOT.  Vehicle users must also have a valid driving licence.

Restricted byways are open to cyclists, horse riders, horse and carriage users and walkers but exclude use for motor vehicles and motorcycles.

Public rights of way across your land must be kept unobstructed and footpaths on the edge of a field must not be ploughed.  Footpaths can be ploughed where they cross a field but a minimum width of one metre must be made available to walkers within 14 days of ploughing and landowners must restore footpaths after ploughing.

Crops cannot be grown on a public right of way however grass can be grown for hay and silage.  Dairy bulls over 10 months are not allowed to cross a field with a public right of way.  Gates and styles have to be put up with the permission of your local authority.

You cannot put up signs which mislead or prevent people from using a public right of way and you cannot harass, intimidate or prevent members of the public from using a public right of way.

Permissive paths are not rights of way but paths which a landowner has given the public the permission to use.   The permission may be granted on a long-term basis but it can be withdrawn at any time.

If you own land with a public right of way and have concerns about how it could affect your viticulture or farm operations, have questions about the purchase of land with a footpath or public right of way, permissive footpaths or issues about accessing a neighbour’s land, get in touch with our team today.

Sarah Walkden is an Associate at Gullands Solicitors